Epidemic of empty houses

SANDUSKY It's a simple equation with a complicated solution. There are fewer jobs, more foreclosures and a rapidly gro
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



It's a simple equation with a complicated solution.

There are fewer jobs, more foreclosures and a rapidly growing number of abandoned homes in Sandusky.

As of July 24, there were 212 houses listed as vacant or abandoned by the city.

"We don't know how close we are to having all of them," said Carrie Handy, director of the city department of Housing Code Enforcement.

The city will either locate, or receive complaints about, three to five newly abandoned houses per week.

"It's certainly higher than what it was 10 years ago," Handy said.

One cause of the empty house epidemic is the decline in employment opportunities in the area.

"They're moving to where the jobs are," Handy said.

Another contributing factor are foreclosures. As of 2006, Ohio had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation at 3.38 percent, more than double the national average.

"The big majority of what we have are houses that have been foreclosed on," Handy said.

Many of the former owners of the abandoned homes fell victim to predatory lending:people are given mortgages for more than their house is worth or they're tricked into believing a variable interest rate won't rise.

The empty houses are more than just an eyesore. They're costing the city money.

The city must try to locate the former owner and determine what the plans are for the property. In some cases, the city is also responsible for the demolition, which costs roughly $6,000.

"It does start to add up," Handy said.

The staff time and resources required to maintain the vacant properties takes away from the maintenance of city parks, Handy added.

Handy said Bay Area Neighborhood Development Corp., a non-profit developer of affordable housing led by Executive Director Ted Huston, offers free counseling to first-time home-buyers.

Handy hopes that by educating the city's current and potential property owners about predatory lending, they'll be able to curb the growing problem of vacant and abandoned homes.

John Lippus, director of downtown development, suggests another element to a potential solution.

"Statistics prove that by revitalizing the Central Business District, which is traditionally the heart of a community, this will lead to increased redevelopment in the outlying areas," Lippus wrote in an e-mail. "That's why most communities (including our own) that are going through economic redevelopment will start with the downtown first."